With the release of the provincial budget yesterday, it is distressing to see that despite a substantial surplus, Budget 2023 further fuels the crisis facing post-secondary education in Alberta.
Although post-secondary institutions are forecasted to bring in an additional $141 million of their own revenue for the upcoming 2023 fiscal year, the government is estimating it will in turn provide only a $15-million operating-expense increase in 2023. Given that the rate of inflation plus population growth is indicated in the budget to be about 8.7%, this 0.6% increase essentially amounts to an additional cut. In total, post-secondary institutions are estimated to shoulder an unsustainable 54% of their total operating expenses, up from 43% in 2018. Members can view the Alberta budget here, with funding information for post-secondary institutions on page 89 of the document.
By now, the provincial government’s continuing attack on the post-secondary sector comes as no surprise, but it remains chilling. The past four years of dangerous budget slashing have fundamentally changed the University of Alberta — as we know all too well, it is our institution that has shouldered the brunt of these cuts.
Every day, we have been living out the impacts of these devastating changes to our university. Given our continued fight to deliver high-quality education and research with increased workloads and waning resources, this budget feels like another kick while we’re down.
One of the most significant budget announcements related to post-secondary was already shared two weeks back — a 2% cap on domestic tuition increases beginning in 2024-25. Unfortunately, this measure is arriving late, with tuition in Alberta having already increased significantly since 2019, with additional increases for U of A students set in 2023 at 5.5% for domestic students and 6.5% for international students. Amid an affordability crisis, our students remain casualties of these reckless cuts.
Notably, the budget does not include “deconsolidation” — a measure President Bill Flanagan has been calling for that would separate the university’s financial statements from the province’s, allowing the university increased financial flexibility and autonomy. However, Budget 2023 introduces the possibility that universities can request permission to spend 15% of their carry-forward funds. Given the current accumulated carry-forward surplus is about $2.2 billion, this new measure could result in freeing up to $318 million in potential additional spending at the U of A.
AASUA will continue to fight for academic staff, both in advocating for the importance of the work we do, and the value post-secondary education brings to the province. We know education is a cornerstone of our province, and that pushing it aside poses a great risk to Alberta’s future.
We will continue to keep members informed as we learn more about the budget in the coming days.